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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two beautiful Beans -- Fava & Scarlet Runner Beans

What are we going to plant right now? Not many beans are cool season crops 
Fava  Beans- Vicia Faba
These two  beans you can plant in the fall are scarlet runner bean and fava (or broad bean). Some beans are low water, some are not. The most ancient ones were selected in arid climates like our own,  and  aren’t thirsty.

If you are going to grow vegetables in your back (or front)  yard , raised beds with lots of free compost from your municipal recycling program, and  a  gray water [i] system  is the way to go in So Cal.Otherwise using a lot of water to grow vegetables in your yard doesn’t make sense. Just go to the Farmer’s Market!

However, an informal grey water system can be as simple as recycling the water from one bathtub by using a sump pump, an open window and a hose to your raised bed. If you recycle the water from one tub, by saving all the shower and bath water that 2 people use, you’ll  harvest  enough water.

Scarlet Runner-(p. coccineus)
In Europe Haricot d'Espagne, haricot √©carlate

Soo-oo, grey water system in place, we’re ready to consider--- our beans.)  Some of the easiest and most prolific (like Scarlet Runner Bean, p. coccineus) )  take a moderate amount of water. Being scarlet, it attracts hummingbirds.

 The Scarlet Runner( Nahuatl "ayocotl" or in Spanish "ayocote’) originated in Mexico, around 2000 years ago….remains were found in Tehuacan in the Valley of Tehuacan”) Semi-arid, and on the warm side with  6-8 dry months. . Maize was also grown here.. Tehuacan was notable for being the site where the remains were found of the oldest domesticated corn in the world, (up to 5,000 years B.C.).

Does this climate sound familiar? Scarlet Runners are often discussed as "tropical" but that's misleading as like many plants from arid regions of Mexico, runners follow the rain pattern.

You don’t want to eat these beans uncooked, as the Runner beans contain traces of the poisonous lectinPhytohaemagglutinin  which is destroyed in cooking.

 You can even eat the root as they do in Central America It’s a climber that can be used to create shade for something that won’t take full sun in summer when the beans are creating a scarlet curtain.. Chard, parsley, fennel, artichokes  and  any of the greens  might like the relief  from full sun.

Fava Beans
You might never have encountered a fava bean unless you are Italian or Middle Eastern. However you might easily have had them in falafel.

 Fava are native to North Africa and SW Asia (W) and they are very ancient (6.500 B.C )  and very easy to grow. They were a staple in N. Europe until displaced by the potato. 

 Fava means “broad” in Italian, and that’s another name for them.Italians are pretty passionate about their favas—favas can be harvested in spring if planted in the fall, and even the young leaves can be eaten like spinach. You can fry them, puree’ them, make bean paste out of them )

The Arabs eat them for breakfast as Ful Medames as the breakfast dish for Ramadan served with pita bread and a fried egg.

...and mad dogs and Englishman go out in the noonday sun...." 

Grow favas now:In mild climates such as Southern California… sow fava beans in the fall, and patiently wait 150-180 days later, for harvest in spring. Fava beans are a legume, and require a long, cool growing season....."

 Territorial Seeds carry the seed as Broad Windsor Bean and Harris Seed has it as “Broad Improved Long Pod  and Heirloom Seeds has them as Fava Beans

Grow them as you would green peas. 

Bird News : the gold finches are migrating south along the Cenral Coast. They'd appreciate a sockful of nyger seed. If you put out the seed you'll have lots--they tell their friends!


Note: Susan Carpenter, columnist for the LA Times  who has been doing green projects for the last year at her home, evaluated the projects in terms of success and economy. Grey water came out on top.(,10/17/2010).
2 from Beans, A History by Ken Albala, Berg, NYC,NY  2007

Monday, October 25, 2010

Butterfly Update--- Monarch's Food is Mexican Butterfly Bush (Asclepias_curassavica )

Monarchs feed on members of the milkweed family, and they love the Mexican Butterfly Weed--so much so that on a visit to local nurseries---all the Asclepias_curassavica in five gallon cans had stripped branches. ( I was there because they had eaten all the leaves  on the ones I had). The plants are not really damaged, as the leaves promptly grow back when the caterpillars go into their next stage of becoming butterflies. Meanwhile

don't hurt the caterpillars--they are not interested in anything but milkweed, and don't have anything to do with treated plants of  Asclepias_curassavica. Those will poison the caterpillars. Result: no Monarchs. These butterflies are a challenged species in So Cal where we keep cutting down the Eucalyptus groves where they gather.

Passionflower is the host for the Gulf Fritillary. (see blog for 7/19/10) which breeds and hatches earlier than the Monarch.The brightly colored caterpillar is toxic to birds. The passionflower vines have completely recovered from being the host plant for the Fritillaries.

I'm hoping the the Anise Swallowtail will take a fancy to the fennel planted especially to appeal to him. So far the fennel is flourishing madly (turns out to be delicious grilled) but no Swallowtail caterpillars so far. Stay tuned. If you plant the right plants they will come!  Just haven't got the right stuff for swallowtails--they really prefer wild anise to anything else.Picky, picky, picky!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fabled Pomegranates: flowers attract hummingbirds

It is a low water, manageable, graceful plant. Good for you, fire safe, drought resistant and might even make your fortune. (See Resnick at LACMA below)
I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one, as most of us have had it drummed into our heads that pomegranate juice is really, really, really good for you.

 (The FDA is not so sure it’s that good for you.)

However, there is no doubt that it’s just the tree for our Central Coast gardens. If you didn’t do anything but grow it as an ornamental tree it would be worth it.
 There's one purely ornamental Dwarf Pomegranate, ) Punica granatum nana:

And three edible varieties of Punica granatum --- Wonderful, Eversweet and Angel Red. The first picture is of Wonderful, the second of Angel Red (both photos are from Monrovia Nursery 

Having grown Wonderful, I can say—it is. Eversweet sounds ---well, sweet.   Angel Red is a new hybrid created by a young man who died at 23. It’s also a beautiful, early bearing tree.

The classic 16th c.  Italian Garden had to have a pomegranate tree—it’s in the directions! Italian gardeners may have forgotten why they had to have one, but the pomegranates’ roots reach deep into antiquity.

Pomegranates have been found in Egyptian tombs, at Jericho, and Babylon, grown in groves in India, Iran, and Transcaucasia dating back to 1000 BC. (W)

The scientific name Punica granatum is something of mishmash.  But interesting—one source translates it as “the apple of carthage” which ties it back to the Phoenicians, who were the earliest traders in the Mediterranean, and could have spread it around the whole ancient world.

Or could it be the “apple” that Adam and Eve found irresistible, or the apple that Paris awarded to Venus (see Trojan War) for her gift of the most beautiful woman in the world –Helen?

Venus persuading Helen 

Cranach The Judgement of Paris

Another source says it means “seeded apple” and avers it came over the Silk Road.

 Probably our treasure,  travelled both routes. The fruit has a long association with tombs (Egypt) and the Greeks had their Persephone with her 3 seeds (see The Greek Myths) :

Rossetti's Persephone


recently, the pomegranate gets credit for another contribution to art.  LACMA has a whole new gallery--- the Resnick Gallery of Roccoco  and 18th c. art--- thanks to POM© the juice. The collection contains this wonderful portrait of Marie Antoinette 

Marie Antoinette by Le Brun
who should be holding a pomegranate, not a rose. Like Persephone the poor woman was destined for a nasty and premature  trip to the Underworld.

But we will end on a better note with a recipe for a Persian  Pomegranate Lentil Soup 

collected  by Peggy Trowbridge Filipone  which contains pomegranate juice,rice,lentils,herbs and raisins. See

Pomegranate and Lentil Soup

Note: Monrovia Nursery grows Wonderful and Angel Red, Armstrong Nurseries grows Eversweet.